I was granted the opportunity to combine two of my life passions – travel and built heritage
In 2021, I was granted the opportunity to combine two of my life passions – travel and built heritage – when I was accepted to study for the Advanced Master in Structural Analysis of Historic Construction and Monuments at the University of Minho, Guimaraes, Portugal.
It was not long after arriving to this small city in the northern region of Portugal that I was captured by its charm. The historic center, with its winding streets and medieval buildings, characteristic of the northern Portuguese style, provided a fully immersive example of the fascinating coursework we were about to encounter. With Penha overlooking the city, and Castelo de Guimaraes, and the Palacio dos Duques located within short walking distance of the university, we were spoiled with the stunning backdrop and choices of places to visit when a break from our studies was necessary.
And with the intensity of the course, the breaks were necessary! However, with the guidance, knowledge, and support provided by the professors and faculty, my classmates and I were led with constructive feedback and quality learning throughout each of our eight modules.
Throughout the year, we were taught fundamental principles of structural analysis and applied these in each of our modules for modeling, inspecting, monitoring, and providing repair solutions for historically significant structures. My favorite aspects of the course were the site visits around the North of Portugal, where in some cases we were brought on exclusive tours by contractors carrying out remedial works.
Nothing could have prepared us for climbing 30 m to touch the granite stone steeples of the Igreja de São Gonçalo in the stunning town of Amarante in the Douro region, or standing on the rooftop of the Porto Cathedral, witnessing firsthand the reconstruction of the roof beams and new tiling. In Guimaraes, we were given a private live performance of Portugal’s oldest and largest remaining organ by the parish priest in the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, which left us feeling overwhelmed with gratitude to be involved in such a highly regarded cohort of heritage site enthusiasts.
In other cases, the site visits were part of our course content, and we enjoyed the challenge of providing full diagnostic reports and structural solutions to be presented to our classmates and lecturers. As student engineers and architects, these experiences gave us a clear idea of navigating the necessary procedures for structural rehabilitation in the real world.
For the “SA7: Integrated Project module”, our group chose the Lavandeira Greenhouse in Vila Nova de Gaia. This beautiful Neo-gothic greenhouse was the source of many enjoyable daytime excursions, whereby we collected valuable data through inspection, digital imagery, and dimensional measuring. We completed detailed AutoCAD drawings of the intricate ironwork, and a subsequent Robot 3D structural model to obtain important information on the behavior of the structure under various loading conditions. Material types and their specific damages were also included in the full report, and our final presentation was received well by our academic peers and professors.
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Long days in the SAHC room were succeeded through friendships formed and skills shared amongst our peer group. We brought stories, foods, and sayings from our respective countries and, for me, those memories in that room are some of the most dear I hold from my experience at SAHC. The short timeframe of the Masters was also appreciated, as I was happy to complete the academic coursework and return to a professional environment within an 11-month period. Currently, I am living and working in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in a construction environment on a Working Holiday Visa, and in the next few months, I intend to find employment as a structural integrity and remediation engineer.
I know that my skills obtained on the SAHC Masters will be highly revered for this nature of work, as all of our modules involved diagnosing and analyzing structural damage types, while individual case studies provided appropriate repair techniques as recommended by our professors within their specified area of interest. For most of the students, the option was provided to carry out their Dissertation in either Barcelona, Prague or Padova. I chose to stay in Guimaraes due to the topic of my dissertation, cana.
This part of the coursework was, for me, the highlight of the year. With the help of my classmates, 370 cana culms were harvested in Apulia at the relief of a local farmer, as the plant is invasive and a hindrance to the agricultural capabilities of the area. With the interest of my academic peers, I held a three-day bioconstruction workshop where participants constructed three full-scale cana arches with the harvested and prepared cana. These arches were then loaded at the UMinho laboratory and various data were collected in order to exhibit the capacity and mechanical properties of cana as a structural material.
I loved the whole process of this experience, rom hunting for cana to the final presentation of my thesis, and with the support and guidance of my ever-present Dissertation tutors. I was given the opportunity to express the structural qualities of this material found in the vernacular of many cultures around the world.
Since my completion of the SAHC course, I feel well-equipped and confident to proceed as a structural engineer working towards the maintenance and conservation of architectural heritage and culture. I feel very lucky to be a part of a strong community of heritage professionals from all over the world, of whom I anticipate encountering once again!